Call it a tipping point or an epiphany, but business has found its voice on the critical public policy issues of the day.Business has often been left on the sidelines criticizing after-the-fact decisions that hurt the economy. But with last week's key vote in favor of the proposed $84 million runway safety and extension project at the Charles M. Schulz--Sonoma County Airport, the business community has pulled together with a singular voice to show that it can have impact. Real impact. Like 5-0 impact.

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors took that vote Jan. 10 to certify the project environmental impact report, but not before four and a half hours of testimony, some from opponents, but a good portion of it from the Santa Rosa Chamber of Commerce, North Bay Leadership Council, Sonoma County Alliance and other business representatives.

The airport needs to extend the runway approximately 900 feet to 6,000 feet so that smaller regional jets that service destinations such as those to the east and southeast can safely land and take off.  Horizon Air currently operates five daily flights out of Santa Rosa to Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas. One of the new destinations mentioned most often where regional jets come into play is Denver.

What would be the economic impact of added air service?

Business Journal Staff Writer Dan Verel reported that airport staff and the county said every new flight could generate approximately $23 million in economic impact and could create 70 jobs.  Horizon's five current daily flights generate an economic impact of $112 million and have created 414 jobs in the county, according to airport staff. They county anticipates a total of 11 or 12 commercial daily flights by 2015, which would carry an economic impact of $282 million while creating nearly 900 jobs. The county master plan calls for a maximum of 21 flights a day by 2030.

The added benefits to the region's broader economy also loom large. Added flights to major hubs such as Denver could allow tourists to come directly into Sonoma County rather than through the Bay Area airports. And what about the region's companies? Agilent Technologies, the North Bay's largest high-tech employer with 1,150 employees here and other major sites Colorado, said in the last year it filled 1,000 seats to and from Denver airport.

But while the advancement of the airport runway project is an important milestone, work on supporting a 21st century transportation infrastructure for the North Bay doesn't stop. Another major issue in play for business and the entire North Bay is the effort to repeal the SMART commuter rail.

SMART directors this week approved the first $103 million phase of the regional project that will generate 900 jobs. But the repeal effort has cast a cloud on next steps for this important transportation alternative.

As one observer recently put it, 2012 will be the year of planes, trains and automobiles in the North Bay. On these and other issues, business has been and must continue to make its voice heard....

Brad Bollinger is editor in chief and associate publisher of the North Bay Business Journal. He can be reached at bbollinger@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4251.